Spatial Histories of the Early Ottoman Railroads

Project: Research project

Project Details


This research project focuses on the production of railway spaces in western Anatolia (Turkey) during the second half of the 19th century, with an emphasis on how spatial practices were altered with the advent of railways in the region. Understanding the railroads as a cultural as well as a material phenomenon, this work approaches the western Anatolian railways through a series of interdisciplinary vignettes that juxtapose the histories of the built environment with histories of technology, environment, archaeology, travel, and the senses. The primary goal of this project is to complete, for submission to book publishers, a manuscript that explores early Ottoman railroads from multiple historical perspectives. A secondary product will be a prototype digital humanities website for organizing, mapping, and sharing the key primary sources that support the book’s narrative history.

In an effort to modernize its transportation infrastructure, the Ottoman government granted the first railway concessions in Anatolia to two British companies. The Izmir- Aydın and Izmir-Kasaba lines connected the prominent eastern Mediterranean port city of Izmir to the fertile valleys of the Gediz and Menderes rivers. The construction of railways was an intensely material act, requiring not only the laying of tracks and the construction of station buildings, but the alteration of a whole landscape. The railroads changed the commercial transportation networks of the region that had depended for centuries on camel caravans traveling along well-established but flexible pathways. People also found a new mobility in the train, including masses of tourists who partook in the ready access to some of the best known ancient and Biblical places of archaeological significance. The railways incited new archaeological explorations that expanded knowledge and facilitated the acquisition of antiquities for museums, private collections and even as construction materials. Additionally, railroads brought with them novel sensory perceptions. From the moment when the first locomotive whistle was heard in Izmir to the illumination of the night, a new and industrial sensorium was woven onto the existing sensory geography of the region.

This project aims to produce the first comprehensive scholarly introduction to these early railways, placing their historical significance within a global 19th century. The book will also contribute to the advancement of alternative theoretical frameworks – such as histories of mobility and the senses – thus serving as a resource for scholars working on similar topics in other geographies. The digital humanities companion will invite the public to engage in this history.
Effective start/end date1/01/2231/12/24


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